Did the Manteca Unified School District board meet behind closed doors in a bid to change the course of the Nov. 4 election?
A source indicates long before the balloting took place trustees discussed what they should do — if anything — about candidates Alexander Bronson and Ashley Drain.
At one point it was even tossed about whether they should direct Superintendent Jason Messer or Assistant Superintendent Clark Burke to approach the registrar of voters with a potential complaint.
The complaint centered on investigating that several trustees had done regarding the residency status of the two challengers. State law requires candidates filing for office to reside within the district they are seeking to represent.
It set in motion events that led to a complaint being forwarded to the Secretary of State’s office for investigation within hours of the polls closing.
Meeting behind closed doors to discuss a pending election per se is illegal under the Ralph M. Brown Act. But if they were doing so on the advice of counsel about potential litigation or the board itself wanted to discuss possible litigation as a precursor to securing legal services to pursue legal action it could pass muster.
That means a possibility exists that district legal counsel may have advised the individual that made the official complaint to the registrar of voters.
If that is the case, it throws the conduct of the school board into question since it would make it appear there was intent to use district resources to protect two incumbents — Don Scholl and Manuel Medeiros.
Voters made it absolutely clear on Nov. 4 they did not like the direction the current school board has taken the district. Bronson did not campaign while Drain did some stumping. Bronson walloped Scholl collecting 56.91 percent of the vote while Drain topped Medeiros with 55.70 percent of the ballots. It seems apparent that virtually everybody who voted for Bronson also voted for Drain.
Scholl and Drain are connected to board member Sam Fant whose name both used to vouch for the validity of the information they used on candidacy papers.
Fant has a solid maverick reputation as a board member. That has put him at odds more than a few times with the district hierarchy and the board majority.
The stage has been set for what could be a showdown for control of the board.
It is clear the top brass in the school district plus many board members have at the very least reservations about Drain and Bronson and a fear that they could join Fant in a workable coalition. Adding to the mix is the fact when Fant ran two years ago he purposely avoided trying to get the endorsement of the Manteca Educators Association, the biggest concentrated “special interest” player in board politics. Not only did the MEA anoint Scholl and Medeiros but their top brass penned letters essentially slamming Bronson and Drain for being disinterested in meeting with the teachers’ union. Of course, it must of seemed safe to pummel Drain and Bronson for not making the expected pilgrimage to kiss the brass ring since the MEA apparently did not sense any growing frustration in the Manteca-Lathrop-Weston Ranch communities about the school district in general.
Should authorities ultimately decide there was election fraud it could lead to the vacating of the seats secured in the Nov. 4 vote by Bronson and Drain. It would give the school board an epic mess.
They obviously can’t appoint the incumbents without infuriating voters who made it clear they did not want them. Remember, Bronson and Drain did not split up the vote. Both were head-to-head races.
And since Drain and Bronson essentially came out of nowhere to validate the theory that voters aren’t happy with the direction the current school board is taking, having the remaining four members appoint replacements could very well set a stage for an even bigger voter backlash.
That would leave special elections as the alternative. That’s where it gets interesting. Now that there are area-only elections, candidates that acutely reflect the frustrations and concerns of specific segments of the community will emerge. In Lathrop, longtime school district critic Rosalinda Valencia could get traction.
If Drain and Bronson are seated and successfully fight back any legal challenges to their residential status, obviously some doubt will linger among voters.
But the biggest issue will be the fact sitting board members and even perhaps the people they will work with already doubt their legitimacy.
Putting dispute over residency aside for a second, the board will have three out of seven board members in their early to mid-20s— Fant, Drain, and Bronson.
Given how some believe Fant somehow lacks experience to adequately serve despite a resume of public service on boards that includes a four-year stint on the Stockton Planning Commission complete with a year as chairman, the stage is set not for a generational clash but for one over educational philosophy.
Fant and Drain, for certain, have made it clear schools do not stand separately from the communities they serve. They want facilities to be available after school to serve kids through organized programs. That, based on reaction to Fant’s efforts in the past, doesn’t seem to be as a high as a priority as ventures such as Going Digital.
In retrospect, perhaps the board and district brass should have spent more time concerned about the actual communities they serve outside of the school campuses than the residency of board members they clearly had an issue with that also connections with Fant.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.